Classical Guitar Playing Posture

I realised the other day that I’d not written a piece on posture for a while, so I thought it was high time I touched on the subject again. Why? Well, it’s one of those things are so vitally important to players at every level – something that has the potential to create play-hindering issues in the short-term and pain-inducing, crippling problems in the longer term – that it deserves some specific focussed attention from time to time.

So, do we know what “good” posture is when playing classical guitar and how do we know when we’ve got it?

First and foremost a good classical guitar playing position is one that is relaxed (without being sloppy), but allowing yourself to hold your form without unnecessary tension (i.e. just the correct amount of tension that means you’re sitting up without turning into a jellyfish). I guess it’s kind of like the sitting equivalent of smart casual dress – you feel kind of good in it, ready for business, not too rigid, not too slouchy.

When seated make sure your legs are bent at roughly 90 degrees, with both feet flat on the ground. Then holding the guitar (using either your preference of foot stool or rest), make sure that your back is straight, using your stomach muscles to help keep that nice straight form.

Not ram rod straight though as that can bring problems of it’s own and certainly not beyond straight, chest puffed out (this is something I used to do and if not caught early can cause issues with compression in the spine). Instead think about lengthening your spine by imagining you’re a puppet with a string attached to the crown of your head keeping you upright.

Aim to sit towards the front of your seat; don’t sit too far back on the chair or lean on the back of the chair.

With your arms, the right arm (if right handed) should be soft and heavy, positioned over the bell of the body, with just the minimal amount of tension through it to hold that relaxed form.

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Aim to keep the left hand, wrist and arm more or less in alignment whilst playing

For the left arm, be careful not to drop the shoulder, but also be be careful that it’s not creeping up around your ear, as this will create unnecessary tension (and thereby aches and pains) in the neck and shoulder itself. Ensure the wrist is nice and straight, more or less in line with the hand and arm most of the time, elbow pointing down towards the floor (a bit like this photo I took of one of my marvelous students). This will keep the wrist area nice and open, leaving all bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessel relatively unencumbered. Obviously we’re all physically made up differently, and biomechanically we all move in slightly different ways, but following these principles (with the help of your teacher and/ or health care professional such as an Alexander Technique teacher, physiotherapist or myotherapist) will set you on the right path.

Why is it so important to maintain good posture?

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that our lives are increasingly sedentary – many of us sitting in front of computers all day at work, sitting in front of computers at home, TV screens, in our cars and so on. And adding sitting on our bottoms to play guitar isn’t helping with any potential musculoskeletal issues associated with lots of sitting down!

If we’re not using the correct postural muscles we can come to rely on other muscles that aren’t really designed to hold us up long-term. This creates pain and soreness in those muscles, increasing weakness in the “proper” postural muscles too and decreasing ability for the body to share the stresses of stabilising us whilst playing.

And like any activity that we may do lots of in one sitting, so to speak, we need to break it up and do something else, change what we’re doing and move about. So every 30-45 minutes, or at least every 60 minutes make sure you’re moving or standing up and walking around to relieve any build up in tensions in the body.

So we need to make sure that we’re sitting and playing in the ways that are kindest to the body. That way we can ensure the longevity of our classical guitar playing too.

 

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Classical Guitar Performance – Cutting Loose and Going For It

Cutting loose and going for it. Cutting loose is about letting go and letting the unconscious mind and your muscle memory and all that hard work and practice you’ve been putting in do its thing. It’s about trusting yourself.

What does that even mean when playing guitar? For me at least it means:

  • Resigning conscious control of what it is I’m playing.
  • Being really in the now and present with what I’m playing in exactly that one moment; living for the moment!
  • Not being concerned with the music I have just played and is now past.
  • Not becoming upset with any glitches or imperfections I may have played or thinking how I’d like to play that better and so on.
  • Not judging myself or thinking about what others may think.
  • Not allowing myself to get over-excited when I really nail something spectacularly.
  • Maintaining a calm, confident and centred (not ecstatic, not negative) demeanour when playing; just being.

Here are some ideas to help loosen you up and get you to trust yourself….

Why are you playing guitar? To make yourself and others happy or moved? Or to make yourself feel tense and horrible? Hopefully not the latter or you and I need to have words! Note that I say “make yourself…..” – only you can make yourself feel a certain emotion….Think about that one. And remember why you’re playing in the first place.

Close your eyes when you’re next practicing and really listen it to the sound you’re making. How does it sound? How does it feel to really focus in on your sound in this way? How could focusing in on your sound help you in a performance situation? It gives your conscious mind something to focus on and be occupied with so your unconscious mind and your body can get on with the job in hand (boom boom). It will also mean your sound quality remains top notch.

Practice getting in the zone, and quieting the active, bubbling, bouncing conscious mind and its whirling thoughts. Some daily meditation, or similar mind-body awareness practice can really help with this. I like to do daily Alexander Technique practice with my semi-supine position as it gets mind and body awareness working together – I become aware of both mental and physical tensions and practice noticing and letting go. It’s soooo relaxing…

This one’s for those who are ready to take it to the next level……. Say “bugger it! What is the worst that can happen?!” As special as you are and all that, no one is going to remember your performance in an hours time let alone that you played a B-flat instead of a B (if they even realised!), or that you skipped a section, or that you lost your place because you got excited. I promise you.

Think on it – do you remember any particular moments from the concerts and gigs you’ve been to as an audience member? Maybe a couple, but overall you remember them as fantastic experiences I bet?  People always remember the big picture rather than the little details, so give them a technicolour experience rather than something in muted tones!

And then pull it back a little

And when you’ve got that down pat it’s time to review, revise and perhaps look back a little in the other direction.

Sometimes cutting loose and really going for something may not always be entirely appropriate – Barrios and the idea of high-energy “cutting loose” seems to go well together. With a Bach prelude perhaps the interpretation of “cutting loose” needs to be tempered slightly.

In the act of getting excited and really going for something we may in fact over-egg the pudding and diminish it’s impact. This is then where we need to exercise a little, not restraint – I don’t think our playing should ever feel restrained, do you? – but refinement.

This is where we now work to define the point or range between totally, 100% “safe”, timid and indeed restrained playing and 100% playing by the seat of your pants, super exciting, edgy, risk-taking playing….. I call this the Rogers’ Cutting Loose Scale. Hah hah!

Where do your current repertoire pieces sit on this scale? Is it time to put a rocket up the proverbial backside of some of your playing? Is it time to bring some back down to earth a little?

Ooh before I forget…..

Watch out for a wee announcement tomorrow about an exciting new development for the blog. 🙂

Nicole